In 2012 Frank Andrews, the son of Greek migrant parents, took his passion for roasting coffee beans to the extreme. Andrews’ (whose original family name is Androutsopoulos) giant leap of faith saw him not only leave his job in finance – a career he spent almost 20 years building – but also to put his Bondi apartment at risk.
Five years later his decision to leave his high-pressured job has seen the 42-year-old become an award-winning coffee roaster and owner of two popular Sydney cafes.
After reading on internet forums that you could roast beans with a popcorn maker, (yes, a popcorn maker) Andrews took the advice literally which almost led to a catastrophic event.
“I almost burnt my apartment down,” he tells Neos Kosmos. “There was smoke billowing out of the sunroom and into some of my neighbours’ flats. From there I went, ‘hmmm, maybe I need to roast somewhere else’.”
After a couple of years of experimentation with Frankie’s Beans, as he calls them, he entered the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) Australian International Coffee Awards in 2014 and won a silver medal. That success led to Andrews taking his passion for coffee roasting to the next level.
“I was still working full time, roasting Saturdays and Sundays at my parents’ place and not burning their house thankfully,” he says. “So I thought that I needed to test my beans with customers. I needed to hear their direct feedback. So, I took the year off from my job at the bank and I set up a cafe in Alexandria as a way to test my product directly with the public. Then at end of 2015 we finished 35th in Sydney’s Beanhunter competition, which is pretty amazing.”
Alexandria, the location of Andrew’s first cafe, has transitioned from a mostly industrial area to one of Sydney’s most visited cafe spots, making it one of the most competitive coffee markets.
Cafe Without a Name is Andrews first cafe and it’s here that Neos Kosmos samples his award-winning triple-roasted Colombian beans. After taking the first look, smell, and taste, the coffee’s unique transportation quality is striking. That’s a pretty neat trick considering that the cafe is located inside a hardware shop on a street that is lined mostly with industrial tenants.
Its unusual setting belies its status as Sydney’s number one cafe for 2017 with a rating of 5/5 on the Restaurant Guru website and 9.6/10 on the Beanhunter app, and according to Andrews the humble location means the coffee has to stand out.
“You have to try harder when you don’t have anything pretty like being in a hardware store,” he says.
One way Andrews tries harder is the meticulous process he applies in selecting his coffee beans.
“I tried coffees from different regions and I came across this one bean that roasted perfectly, [it] roasted evenly, and it just tasted amazing so I stuck with it,” he says.
“It’s grown in the Caldas region in Colombia, about 1500m above sea level. It’s just a beautiful coffee bean.”
And for those who like their coffee without the taste of exploitation, Andrews revealed that he makes sure the human cost of coffee production is not included in his brew.
“My green bean merchant buys directly from the farmer and not the co-op,” he says.
“We pay a premium to the farmer and we get the best of their harvest. So, we give more directly to the farmer. You want the farmers to pass that on to their workers, so that they have a better quality of life. I could buy a Colombian bean at about half the price of what I am paying now but the quality isn’t going to be there. So we pay a premium to get the quality product.”
Andrews had never worked in the coffee industry let alone made an espresso coffee before he began his coffee bean roasting venture.
His experience in the finance industry benefitted him greatly in how he set up his business.
“Because of my background it didn’t make sense for me to spend a million dollars setting up a roastery when I only had a handful of customers,” he says.
“So, I actually found a roaster who, on his quiet days, allowed me to rent their roastery so I didn’t have the cost of setting it up or of maintaining it or to pay rent. The only rent I pay is when I use the roastery. I don’t have that fixed cost element to that side of the business.”
After setting up his first cafe and supplying his Frankie’s Beans range to cafes Australia-wide, Andrews opened a second location in Kings Cross where again his financial background was key.
“I bought the premises in Kings Cross from a self-managed super fund and that means the cafe business is renting from the self-managed super fund,” he revealed. “So yes, I am paying rent to myself and not to another landlord. These are the kinds of things I advise my wholesale customers upon when they are setting up their own cafes.”
Between the two cafes and his wholesale business Andrews is on track for $1 million turnover this year.
After winning bronze and silver at this year’s RASV Australian International Coffee Awards one would think that aiming for gold and opening more cafes would be a priority. But Andrews is sticking to his original passion – roasting beans.
“It’s good to get those awards, but that’s not what drives me. My driver is to get the best possible product that I can. Whether a group of judges likes it or not, that’s a bonus. The main thing is that my customers like the coffee. Getting the two cafes up and running and making sure they are profitable and working well is always the goal but for me the cafe is a showroom for my coffee beans.
“While I love the cafe side of things, my true passion is the roasting side of things; to have different coffees from different parts of the world. Just being able to grow that wholesale side. That’s where I’m looking to focus all my energy going forward.
“When I’m talking to a wholesale customer, we come here to Kings Cross. We have a meeting here and we can try my product here. It’s not just a cafe for me.
While the big leap has brought awards and made his business a success, Andrews says the biggest satisfaction he has found from roasting coffee beans is what it’s done for his quality of life.
“What makes my journey so unique is that it is a journey of happiness,” he says. “I’m doing what I love and if more people were doing that I think we’d have a very different outlook and mindset on life in general.
“I’m not doing it for the monetary side of things. I am doing it for health, I guess. Because I’m getting up each morning and doing something I love, rather than something where I’m saying ‘argh I don’t want to be going to work today’.
“It’s a very different mindset that I have. I’m working harder than I have ever worked in my life and I’m earning less than I ever have but I am also happier than I have ever been.”